Before local election season kicked off this year, we asked our readers what issues they wanted candidates running for Dublin City Council to talk about most. How to improve cycling infrastructure was high on the list.
We’ve asked five candidates up for election on 24 May what they plan to do, if elected, to improve cycling infrastructure in the city.
Some talked about the need for more segregated cycle lanes and how “painted-on” cycle lanes, either on roads or footpaths, aren’t safe enough.
They talked about how they’d improve infrastructure in small, effective ways even if larger projects, like BusConnects, get held up or take years to deliver.
Candidates also talked about the need for the national government to hand down more funding for cycling.
People Before Profit’s Hazel de Nortúin, a sitting councillor running for re-election in the Ballyfermot-Drimnagh local election area (LEA), says she has a Dutch-style cruiser bike sitting at home, but doesn’t feel safe enough to cycle through the city.
“It’s not so bad in and around certain parts of the city, but the whole thing isn’t continuous,” she says, which makes it difficult to get from one area to another.
The solution is “properly designated bike lanes in the city, intermingled with green spaces”, she says, stressing that cycle lanes should be segregated from other traffic, and that they should connect up.
Racheal Batten, a Fianna Fáil candidate in the Artane-Whitehall LEA, says she agrees there’s a need for segregated cycle infrastructure. But we need to “think outside the box”, she says.
For new cycle lanes, the council needs “to look beyond the existing roads that are there, and look at other opportunities to create tracks”, she says.
Cycling campaigners have criticised some proposals for cycle tracks that divert from the main route to and from town, especially when the diversion adds distance to a journey.
Batten suggests using land at the edges of city parks, like the cycle lane alongside Fairview Park. That’s set to be refurbished under plans for the Clontarf to City Centre Cycle Route.
Balancing Big and Small
Sean Tyrrell, a Fine Gael candidate for the Ballymun-Finglas LEA, says improving traffic management and public transport is a key part of his campaign.
Making sure there’s good cycling infrastructure is a big part of that, he says. “I feel that BusConnects will play a major role in improving this all around Dublin.”
The BusConnects Core Bus Corridor project is an overhaul of the city’s main bus arteries. Plans include 200 kilometres of dedicated cycle tracks.
Also, new plans for theLiffey Cycle Route were unveiled by the National Transport Authority (NTA) last month, and the public consultation process is open until 6 June.
Tyrrell says plans like this take time but do get done eventually. He says it’s important to make sure cycling infrastructure is discussed at council meetings.
“Once [councillors] make it clear to city management these issues are important”, things will get done, he says.
Batten, the Fianna Fáil candidate for Artane-Whitehall, says something as simple as extending the DublinBikes scheme to suburbs, in places like Dart stations in Clontarf and Killester, would encourage more rail commuters to continue their journeys home by bike, rather than bus.
The Green Party’s Claire Byrne, a sitting councillor running for re-election in the South-East Inner-City, says the council is finally seeing movement on big projects: “Like the Liffey Cycle Route. I think we finally reached a fairly agreeable solution to that.”
There’s the Dodder Greenway, a cycling and walking track along the River Dodder on the south side of the city too, she says. Consultation on that route closed last September. Councillors discussed the plans on Monday afternoon.
“As a member of the Sandycove Cycle Route subcommittee, we also managed to progress on the Sean Moore Road to Merrion Gates section of that. We’re just working with the NTA on the route for that at the moment,” Byrne says.
Byrne says she’s also in support of the “slightly controversial but still very much needed” Fitzwilliam Cycle route, and the quietway in Ranelagh and Donnybrook, “which was unpopular, I suppose, but the Greens very much supported that initiative”.
Byrne says big choices have to be made. “If we’re serious about reducing our transport emissions and creating a healthier, cleaner, greener society, then we need to be investing in safe cycling infrastructure,” she says.
These key projects take a long time but seem to be getting somewhere, she says. “I’d like to be around to make sure it progresses further.”
“Part of improving cycling in the city is improving the relationship between cyclists and motorists,” says Tyrrell, the Fine Gael candidate for the Ballymun-Finglas LEA.
“One thing that puts people off cycling, apart from infrastructure that needs upgrading”, is incidents between cars and cyclists, he says.
“Proper education” ensuring everyone knows the rules of the road, which might include an online theory test for cyclists who want to cycle in city centre, is what Tyrrell puts forward for this.
Cycle lanes segregated from both motorists and pedestrians are crucial for the safety of all road users, says Declan Meenagh, a Labour Party candidate running in the Cabra-Glasnevin LEA.
“Painted-on” cycle lanes won’t cut it for vulnerable road users like him, says Meenagh, who has sight impairment and is a white-cane user. “I can’t make out which lane is for walking and which lane is for cycling.”
In its submissions on the BusConnects Core Bus Corridors, the Dublin Cycling Campaign has proposed “island bus stops”, which bring cycle lanes behind bus stops so buses and cyclists never have to share the same space. Pedestrians would have to cross over the cycle lanes to get to and from the bus.
“We need to figure that one out,” Meenagh says, highlighting safety concerns for the most vulnerable road users.
“I want a clear look at where it’s worked well in other countries,” he says. “We can come up with a solution.”
Getting Things Done
Getting a motion passed in the council chamber is one thing, says de Nortúin, the People Before Profit councillor from the Ballyfermot-Drimnagh LEA. Making it real is the challenge.
Bundling projects together is a way to get things done, she says. “If there’s something happening in an area, lump everything in as one, and it’s easier to get it done.”
Such as making proposals for greenways and cycle tracks a part of local area plans, she says.
De Nortúin says a lot of budgeting at the council level is planned two years in advance. That means thinking about cycling infrastructure plans early is key.
Even if you get infrastructure agreed at the beginning of a five-year term, a councillor would be lucky to see it happen by the next election, she says.
Those re-elected might be able to keep it on the agenda, she says. “If not, it will possibly be dropped.”
Byrne, the Green Party councillor from the South-East Inner-City LEA, says a “big problem” holding cycling infrastructure plans back is a lack of funding.
“There hasn’t been any political will on a national level to allocate the right amount of funding for cycling,” she says.
On some projects, the council has failed to draw down all of the funding allocated for cycling projects, while on others, it has spent even more than was initially allocated, NTA figures show.
Most money is being ploughed into building roads rather than public transport, cycling, and walking infrastructure, she says. “We’re slowly seeing some funding trickling in now.”
Councillors have to make sure that funding is spent right and projects delivered, she says. And “delivered in the right way for pedestrians and cyclists”.
For Byrne, one thing that means is safe routes to schools. The council has a responsibility to helps schools “get kids back walking to school, cycling to school, and scooting to school as much as possible”.
We didn’t have room to talk to all of the candidates for this story, but you can see what 89 other candidates (so far) have to say about this issue over on our voter’s guide. You can also see how sitting councillors running for re-election have voted over the past few years, on CouncilTracker.ie.